A day after Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature unveiled their plans to back unprecedented new restrictions on guns in the state, the Florida Democratic Party started taking note of the Republican gubernatorial candidates who have stayed silent on the issue.
Citing their “significant backing from the gun lobby,” the state party is pointing its finger at two candidates: Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has dubbed himself an “NRA sellout,” and Congressman Ron DeSantis.
Over the span of their political careers, both have received more than $10,000 in NRA donations, according to a POLITICO report. And before the deadliest school shooting in the state took place last week, they touted that backing.
“The Tampa Bay Times recently called me a sellout to the NRA,” Putnam once said. “As someone who believed the Second Amendment is an inalienable right, I’ll wear that comment like a badge of honor. I’m a proud NRA Sellout.”
Now, facing massive protests, the candidates are keeping quiet on whether they support the plan rolled out by Gov. Scott and the Florida House and Senate, which includes raising the age limit to buy guns to 21 and banning bump stocks. Their proposals also include millions of dollars in funding to harden schools and mental health services.
“The two gov candidates’ silence seems to reflect a larger failure by the GOP to answer the demands of the #NeverAgain movement,” FDP spokesman Kevin Donohoe said in an email.
Donohoe then linked to a screenshot of an email sent by Florida GOP leadership telling members to not answer comments on the proposals.
“We understand the media is reaching out for comments on the plan; however, we ask you do not answer any questions because the RPOF does not take positions on legislation until all three branches of government agree,” Chairman Blaise Ingoglia wrote to members.
On Wednesday, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry held a media event in which he and City Councilman Al Ferraro filled potholes in roads in a Northside industrial park.
Curry wanted to focus on the hard work being done, day in and day out, by city employees to maintain public infrastructure.
A laudable goal. Especially given where things have been lately.
Politics in Northeast Florida has been particularly parlous since the beginning of the year, as you will read below.
The Texas Death Match between Al Lawson and Alvin Brown. The No DQ tag match between those close to the Mayor and those on the side of the Council Resistance. The “JEA on the pole” match.
The prevailing image of the Curry event was the mayor on a steamroller.
Some quipped that it was apropos — symbolic of a political machine that overwhelms opposition as a matter of course.
Curry, the kind of Jacksonville public official who tweets from “On War” by Clausewitz, often uses these public works events as a “back to basics” reset when time or events riddle smooth narratives.
They are a reprieve from the heated narrative of February, spats with Council members, and the like.
They are what the business of running a city comes down to.
No one argues about the mechanics of filling potholes; yet, Tallahassee hasn’t figured out how to take away home rule for that local function.
The takeaway from the event: sometimes it’s nice to just get on the steamroller and smooth out the rough road.
Even if it’s hard to steer sometimes.
More drama in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.
On Monday, as has been the case for weeks, challenger Brown laid into Rep. Lawson.
The former Jacksonville Mayor noted, via a media release, that Lawson was the sole Florida Democrat to take money from the National Rifle Association.
“Despite Rep. Al Lawson’s statement last week decrying the ‘stranglehold of the gun lobby,’ Rep. Al Lawson is just another Washington politician who has taken campaign contributions from the NRA in return for inaction on gun violence. Late last year, Lawson proudly took $2,500 from the NRA — making Lawson the only member of Florida’s Democratic delegation to accept money from the gun lobby.”
However, Lawson said he had NOT taken any NRA money.
Lawson responded Monday, saying flat out that Brown was “lying” about his record.
“Once again, Alvin Brown and his campaign are lying. Not only have I not taken any money from the National Rifle Association or any of its affiliates, [but] I also have scored a zero on issues important to the NRA,” Lawson began.
“If Mr. Brown did some actual research, he would see that there are no contributions from the NRA on my campaign report, or any expenditures from the NRA, or their political action committees to my campaign,” Lawson added, saying that “Brown is trying to use this national tragedy to fundraise and revive his failed political career.”
Lawson has a history of being friendlier to the gun lobby than many Democrats.
The “irresponsible and extreme budget that would slash spending on Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, transportation and other essential government services, all while increasing the deficit … hits our most vulnerable citizens the hardest, reflects a terrible disdain for working families, as well as a disheartening lack of vision for a stronger society.”
This editorial includes recurrent Lawson themes, including noting the high rate of poverty in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, and decrying proposed changes in the food stamps program.
The president proposed sending boxes of food to people instead of the SNAP disbursements.
Save the Date
Nancy Soderberg, a Democrat running in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, opens her campaign HQ in Daytona Sunday afternoon.
Soderberg recently hired a campaign manager and field director, and she is testing the theory that the seat currently held by gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis can be flipped.
Soderberg, who served as Ambassador to the United Nations during Bill Clinton’s presidency, has shown momentum since entering the race in summer 2017. She raised $207,949 last quarter, putting her above the $544,000 mark. She has $376,000 cash on hand.
While this does not give Soderberg the total cash on hand lead (Republican John Ward has $644,216 on hand), Soderberg will have the resources to be competitive.
In a quest for more resources, Soderberg has a DC fundraiser lined up for March 8. On hand: James Carville and Rep. Darren Soto.
Levine makes the scene
Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a candidate for Governor, was in Jacksonville Monday evening to address Duval County Democrats.
Levine, on his second trip to Jacksonville in recent weeks, had a “living room” conversation earlier in the day. Even as Gwen Graham has a strong foothold in the area, what is clear is that Levine thinks Northeast Florida is in play as part of his “67 county strategy.”
“The message has been resonating … I’ve been to towns you’ve never heard of … with a message many Democrats has never heard before.”
That message: deliberately “pro-business.” Levine notes that corporate HR policies tend to be progressive.
“The only way we’re going to win a general election is to make purple … mix red and blue,” Levine said.
The Constitution Revision Commission came to Jacksonville Tuesday for a marathon public hearing on the 37 proposals that are still live.
And some that weren’t, such as Proposal 22, perceived as an affront on abortion rights, and Proposal 62, which would allow for people to vote in primaries regardless of party identification. The green cards of support outweighed the red cards by a factor of 20.
“There are 3.4 million Floridians whose right to vote is denied,” said Jackie Bowman of St. Augustine on Proposal 62.
“To me, this looks like taxation without representation.”
Jackie Rock, a mosquito control commissioner from St. Johns County, bridged from closed primaries to consequences, noting that the Legislature did not pass an assault weapon ban, eliciting a gasp from the crowd.
The same held true for a nonexistent proposal to ban assault weapons. Anytime a speaker sounded that theme, the green cards flapped.
If there was a leitmotif to the six-hour meeting, it was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for proposals. Read more here.
Brown makes it official, challenges Gibson
The paperwork was filed Friday: Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown threw down the gauntlet for a primary challenge against state Sen. Audrey Gibson.
But Florida Politics readers knew already.
“I am running,” Brown said in mid-January.
And contrary to what some in Gibson’s orbit are saying, it’s Brown’s decision and his move to make.
Gibson — the Senate Democratic Leader-designate — would seem like an unlikely primary target.
She has been in elected office since the 1990s and gets donations from national corporations and political committees. Gibson carried $121,000 in her campaign account at the end of January.
Brown thinks he can bring more money to the district, however.
Gibson doesn’t want to talk about the challenge, which sets the stage for the most compelling primary race in Northeast Florida this year outside of the Brown/Lawson demolition derby for Congress.
WJXT, typically a friendly outlet to Curry, postulated this week that his office may be a “boys club.”
The article focused on the aftermath of a conversation between Chief of Staff Brian Hughes and Council President Anna Brosche’s assistant, Jeneen Sanders, which led to Sanders saying she felt threatened.
The Office of General Counsel backed Hughes’ version of events, saying no laws were broken.
WJXT asserted that “some people” said they felt uncomfortable around Hughes after the initial charges were made.
The money quote: “One prominent Republican in Jacksonville who works outside of City Hall said that he’s ‘very headstrong’ and ‘a classic bully’ who can ‘get in a person’s face and invade their personal space.’”
Council President Anna Brosche, meanwhile, offered her own thoughts on the City Hall dynamic and a Florida Times-Union article that essentially mansplained Brosche off the dais.
Brosche asserted that ”if my name was Allen Brosche, I would not be receiving the kind of feedback some are offering me: Take the high road, understand he is a competitive person, learn to bite your tongue, and (repeatedly) don’t take things so personally.”
“The questions to the community, the media and leaders who want me to be quiet, to be nice,” Brosche added, “are: Is competition among community leaders the best thing for Jacksonville? As a man, is Mayor Curry getting the same advice I am?”
Meanwhile, a mysterious poll is probing Brosche’s appeal versus Curry, leading to claims and counterclaims in the consultant set as to who is pushing this poll and why.
GOP gun control push?
Peter Rummell is among the leading names in Jacksonville’s Republican donor class, and he made news himself this weekend as part of a New York Times article detailing prominent GOP donors who no longer will back candidates who support assault weapons sales.
Rummell, described as “a Jacksonville-based donor who gave $125,000 to Jeb Bush’s ‘super PAC’ in 2016, said he was on board with Mr. Hoffman’s plan and would only contribute to candidates supportive of banning assault weapons.”
Rummell said, per the NYT, “the Parkland shooting was a turning point: ‘It has to start somewhere,’ Mr. Rummell said, of controlling guns.”
Rummell has donated majorly to candidates and causes in the Jacksonville area also, including but not limited to the last two successful mayoral campaigns and the pension reform referendum of 2016.
“Al Hoffman has made a bold and decisive statement and his ultimate point is we need to do something major and radical-nipping at the edges isn’t working. Starting is hard and he’s taken what he considers to be an important first step. And, I totally agree that we as a nation need to focus on laws that would create a safer world for all. I am not sure that starting with just an ‘ultimatum’ is the right first step,” Rummell told Florida Politics in a statement, drawing a subtle but important distinction between his position and the rhetorical absolutism of Hoffman’s as documented by the NYT.
“We need a plan, a strategy and tactics. Starting any process is hard — especially one that is as serious, complicated and emotional as this is. Now is the time for us to have a debate that is honest, thoughtful and complete, taking into account all the important issues about how we live practically under the Second Amendment, which I fully support. The discussion needs to end with real transformation and actionable items that bring about real reform, protections and change,” Rummell said.
Keep it 100?
The National Rifle Association endorsed Curry for Jacksonville Mayor in 2015, yet when we asked Curry about NRA support, he said he wasn’t in “100 percent alignment” with donors and supporters Wednesday.
“Not issue specific. Any supporter, any donor, any endorser, you’re not going to have 100 percent alignment on,” Curry said at a media availability.
“At least I don’t. They don’t expect that. They expect independent thinking,” Curry said of donors and endorsers.
We asked Curry where he diverged from NRA positions; he offered no answer, potentially a reflection of the balancing act Republican politicians currently face with the gun lobby.
“I’m a constitutional conservative, believe in the rule of law, and the firearm issue is regulated at the federal and state level,” Curry said. “My commitment to public safety has been demonstrated in real investments and real actions here in Jacksonville.”
When asked about the assault weapon ban that the Florida House effectively voted down Tuesday, Curry said it was another example of a state regulation and offered no comment on the Republican legislators in this region who voted to not even give the bill a hearing.
“Recognizing that we are in very sad times right now, tragic times, I’m going to do what I can in Jacksonville to keep our city safe,” Curry said, citing his reforms of children’s programs via the Kids Hope Alliance as an example of such action.
Reimbursements will come sooner or later for the city of Jacksonville from the federal government for Hurricanes Matthew and Irma.
Until then, however, the impact of the storms will be felt in the city’s general fund budget.
“The latest Hurricane Matthew projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $45.1 million. As of Jan. 31, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $28.0 million related to Hurricane Matthew,” the report contends.
“87.5 percent of the total allowable expenses are subject to reimbursement, leaving the City to fund the remainder. The fiscal year 2017/18 approved budget includes an appropriation of $7.0 million from the GF/GSD to cover the City’s estimated obligation,” the report adds.
Irma is worse: the fiscal impact will be approximately $86.4 million, with no less than a $10.8 million charge to the city even if all reimbursements come through.
With slow reimbursements, one wonders if the discussion of reserve levels will be a more forceful one this summer.
The city has already been dinged by analysts for high fixed costs. These, combined with a reluctance to hike taxes, are leading influencers and policymakers to take a hard look at JEA privatization, which could net the city $3 to $6 billion.
Meanwhile, the city has worries regarding increasing interest rates and the equity market volatility of recent weeks.
Conditions to JEA sale for Curry
While on the JEA subject, Curry tells the Florida Times-Union that he’s not, contrary to opinion in some quarters, married to a JEA sale.
Curry said: “There’s a whole lot of questions that would have to be answered.”
“From my perspective, I would not be supportive of anything that took a lump sum of cash in any scenario — JEA or anything else — and spent it,” Curry said. “Future generations and future taxpayers always have to be protected … people working at JEA need to be protected as well, and their families honored.”
The sale could net the city $3 billion to $6 billion, though there is a lot of salesmanship ahead between Curry and members of Council.
On Tuesday, Council President Anna Brosche took a proactive measure, setting up a special committee that will run through June looking at the issue.
She believes that if the proposal is sound it will survive scrutiny. And she, along with other skeptics, will be on the panel.
More skepticism abounds: the city’s ethics commission wants to firm up rules to avert the temptations and potential abuses of the sale process, should it go forward.
JEA straw poll bill coming, and so are ‘bounties’?
Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis is introducing a bill that would force a straw poll on JEA privatization, he said this week at a meeting of the Duval Democrats.
Privatization, Dennis said, would be “bad for our city … a cover for a shortfall for a bad pension plan that we were all duped into passing.”
Also of note: Dennis claims there is a “bounty” on five Council members from the mayor’s office.
“The mayor, who we all know is a bully, has bounties on five Council members’ heads.”
Those Councilors: President Anna Brosche and Danny Becton, two Republicans, along with Democrats Dennis, Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown.
2 This happened Less than 2 miles from City Hall, Within 2 miles of our government and churches and schools and FSCJ and fire houses and sheriff substations, all institutions designed to help keep a community safe and allow kids the security to grow and learn how to make choices
3 And follow dreams. In the shadow of all that opportunity and assistance, a 7 yr old had life stolen by someone so hopeless and directionless that they didn't hesitate to recklessly turn our streets into a war zone.We have to break through to these young people.
“Last night a 7 yr old was killed in a drive-by shooting in our city. We must come together as a community and stop this senseless violence to give our kids a sense of hope and peace.”
Durkeeville, a rough neighborhood for decades now, is on the periphery of Downtown Jacksonville.
“This happened Less than 2 miles from City Hall, Within 2 miles of our government and churches and schools and FSCJ and firehouses and sheriff substations, all institutions designed to help keep a community safe and allow kids the security to grow and learn how to make choices and follow dreams,” Curry continued.
“In the shadow of all that opportunity and assistance, a 7 yr old had life stolen by someone so hopeless and directionless that they didn’t hesitate to recklessly turn our streets into a war zone. We have to break through to these young people. We have to find a way to make them recognize there is so much more for them than they can imagine, if they choose to believe in hope and peace.”
Small children being shot: a running theme in Jacksonville homicides, and something that Curry has all too routinely had to address during his two-and-a-half years in office.
Fishweir Creek to be swimmable, fishable again
A Jacksonville creek restoration project awaited by Avondale area residents for over a decade is finally on the verge of a City Council green light.
Urbanization and development over the course of decades made the tributary inhospitable to swimming and fishing, per the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The USACE outlines some benefits to the project. Included among them, making the creek “swimmable and fishable,” creating a navigable habitat for the still endangered manatee, improving water quality generally, and creation of a marsh island.
The project is estimated to cost $6,549,000; the city of Jacksonville has appropriated $2,566,375, with the USACE picking up the other 65 percent of the tab. If the federal contribution goes up, the local share will do likewise. The federal cap is $10 million.
Construction is expected in 2019.
A Jacksonville City Council candidate left the Public Service Grants Council this month, while the head of sports and entertainment also moved on.
Tameka Gaines Holly, running in District 8 to replace fellow Democrat Katrina Brown, resigned the PSG by email.
The candidate leads the money race: she posted $10,800 in January — her first month as an active candidate. Holly is the cash on hand leader, with candidates Diallo-Sekou Seabrooks and Albert Wilcox each under $2,000 on hand.
Also out the door: Dave Herrell, after almost four years handling Jacksonville sports and entertainment.
Herrell was responsible in a previous role for elevating the status of the Fiesta Bowl; however, the TaxSlayer Bowl was not particularly raised in his term.
Budget hearings between Herrell’s department and the Mayor’s senior staff, at times, were contentious, with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and others questioning the necessity for the department as it was constituted.
Katie Dearing is unopposed in her bid for 4th Circuit judge. And every sheriff in the circuit backs her.
“Katie is highly respected by her peers and the law enforcement community. She brings a wealth of experience and courtroom knowledge as well as practical wisdom. I proudly endorse her for Circuit Judge,” said Sheriff Darryl Daniels of Clay County.
Sheriff Mike Williams called Dearing “qualified, capable, and caring and she will be an asset to the judiciary.” And Sheriff Bill Leeper of Nassau “heartily endorse[s]” the candidate.
UNF names new leader
Jacksonville’s University of North Florida has a new president.
The UNF Board of Trustees selected University of Cincinnati business-school dean David Szymanski to become the school’s sixth president.
Szymanski currently serves as dean of the Carl H. Lindner College of Business and a professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati. The board authorized Chairman Kevin Hyde to negotiate a contract with Szymanski, whose appointment also is subject to confirmation by the state university system’s Board of Governors.
Anonymous gift brings special ed school closer to new campus
An anonymous $1.5 million gift has helped the North Florida School of Special Education get significantly closer toward a new campus.
The donation brought the school to $5 million of its $6 million goal in a three-year “Angel of the Woods” fundraising campaign. The new campus will be called The Christy and Lee Smith Lower School Campus and Therapeutic Center.
“This is a beautiful tribute,” school head Sally Hazelip told circlecharityregister.com. “The gift honors our past and helps plant the seeds for our future; we are so thankful for this donor’s generosity.”
The campaign is for the facility to build a 32,000-square-foot facility and a Therapeutic Equestrian Center on 5 acres of land bestowed to the school in 2014 by the Ida Mae Stevens Foundation and Doug Milne, trustee. One of the first donations to the campaign was a $1 million gift from Delores Barr Weaver to name the Therapeutic Equestrian Center.
The Smiths were among the first four families who founded the school in 1992. The school’s current Anderson Smith Campus is named after their son.
Groundbreaking is set for fall 2018 with a targeted completion sometime in 2019. The new buildings will join the current 9,000-square-foot classroom structure on the 3-acre campus at 223 Mill Creek Road. When finished, the school will cover 41,000 square feet over 8 acres.
Jax driverless vehicle prototype passes first on-road test
Soon, driverless vehicles will begin having a profound change on Jacksonville streets.
“This is not a question of if. It’s a question of when,” said Jacksonville Transportation Authority CEO Nat Ford to Action News Jax.
Rosalie Simcoe was one of the riders on a prototype autonomous vehicle operated by Transdev tested on the Easy Mile this week.
It was the same type of vehicle that soon will be seen Jacksonville streets and the Skyway. Ford expects the infrastructure conversion to support autonomous vehicles on the Skyway to take five about years.
“This vehicle here is the one that we currently have on our test track over by EverBank Stadium,” Ford explained. “And we’ll be running that vehicle for the next few months and then we’ll swap out, every so many other manufacturers’ vehicles.
“So, we’re in a test and learn phase.”
White the model tested can travel up to 28 miles an hour, for the demonstration – at the University of North Florida – it only traveled about 10 miles an hour.
As for safety, the demonstration had a person step in front of the vehicle, which came to a full stop until he moved away.
Before all of the 17 funerals are even held for victims of last Wednesday’s school massacre in Parkland, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine has launched a new television commercial promising to pursue a ban of assault weapons and declaring the shooting at Stonewall Douglas High School “a wakeup call we can’t ignore.”
Levine’s political committee All About Florida announced Tuesday it is putting $725,000 behind airing the commercial “We Will” in 10 media markets across Florida, unabashedly calling the ad “a direct response to the Marjory Douglas Stoneman shooting, and an urgent appeal from Mayor Levine for common-sense gun reform in the state of Florida.”
The commercial begins with Levine standing next to a school bus, and stating, “When we send our children off to school, we want to know they’re safe. But here in Florida, despite 14 school shootings in 8 years, we still have some of the weakest gun laws in the nation. And the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High is a wakeup call we can’t ignore.
“We need reasonable gun regulations, better background checks, and a permanent ban on assault rifles,” he continues. “And if the legislature won’t do it, we will.”
Levine is battling with former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in seeking the Aug. 28 Democratic primary nomination to run for governor. All four have made strong statements about seeking to ban assault rifles and assure background checks on all gun purchases, before and since the Parkland tragedy.
Leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam of Bartow and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach.
In “Posse Comitatus,” the third season finale of The West Wing, President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) heads to New York to take in “The Wars of the Roses.”
So does Bob Ritchie (James Brolin, playing a three-term Florida Governor and the Republican nominee in the 2002 presidential election) — only Ritchie is there to see a Yankee game because he wants to seem more down-home than Bartlet; none of this Shakespeare sh*t for that guy.
During the play, Bartlet takes numerous breaks for updates on a military operation to assassinate a major terrorist, Omar S.
Meanwhile, Josh (Bradley Whitford) and Toby (Richard Schiff) decide to send the president’s motorcade up to the Bronx so that Ritchie will be late to the play — their own little stealth operation.
Just before “The Wars of the Roses” begins, and the terrorist is assassinated, Bartlet steps out for a moment, where he runs into the recently arrived Ritchie.
Their chat is short and extremely pointed.
Ritchie begins by reciting rhetoric (that baseball is what ordinary Americans enjoy, blah blah blah), and Bartlet doesn’t want to talk in those terms. He just wants to sit with another man and chat. So he tells Ritchie about what happened to Simon Donovan, a Secret Service agent shot and killed while attempting to foil an armed robbery of a convenience store.
Bartlet explains that Donovan was a good man in a bad situation.
“Crime. Boy, I don’t know,” Ritchie replies.
Bartlett’s delayed response to Ritchie is familiar to any fan of The West Wing — ” ‘Crime. Boy, I don’t know’ is when I decided to kick your ass” — and it came to mind Thursday when U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, one of the GOP’s leading candidates for Governor, was asked for his reaction to the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
“I have to go down,” DeSantis says at the 1:20 mark in this clip, referencing the fact that he needed to enter the legislative chamber on a floor below. But in response to a question from a reporter for the Spanish-language NTN 24 TV-news station about whether there was a need for more gun control in schools, DeSantis says, “We’ll have time to debate this stuff.”
DeSantis might as well have said, “Crime. Boy, I don’t know.”
One might forgive DeSantis’ deer-in-the-headlights response if he had said anything else since last Wednesday’s tragedy. But other than the obligatory “thoughts and prayers” platitudes, DeSantis, a man who hopes to lead this state of more than twenty million people, has been absent from the debate.
Mind you, the panel was talking about the Mueller indictment of the Russian nationals who interfered in the 2016 presidential election. It’s understandable that the group did not talk about what happened in Parkland.
But, Jesus Christ, couldn’t DeSantis take ten seconds to acknowledge what happened?
Couldn’t DeSantis take a break from his bid to win the Fox News primary and show some compassion for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High?
Even Bob Ritchie would have done that.
Material from Slate’s A.V. Club and Wikipedia were used in this post.
Before we get to federal and state news, let’s take a look at local drama.
In what has been the roughest week for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, his administration pushed forth to a skeptical City Council and the querulous crowd a controversial report Wednesday urging the sale of the local public utility.
The valuation study was released in draft form last week, suggesting that this is the best time ever for Jacksonville to unload all (or part) of its public utility.
JEA CEO Alan Howard requested a City Council meeting. He was rebuffed by Council President Anna Brosche, who nonetheless had to preside over the meeting anyway when Curry called a conclave.
Gone are the halcyon days of Friday pep rallies with Curry and Brosche cheerleading the Jaguars in Council Chambers, lost in a phalanx of claims, counterclaims and character assassinations. In Wednesday’s meeting, the mayor called the Council president a liar when she said Curry wanted an authorization to explore a JEA sale, followed by Brosche’s assistant saying Curry’s chief of staff “accosted” her, creating a hostile work environment.
The sale, per a General Counsel memo, would require a two-thirds City Council vote. That would be a proverbial heavy lift, given that going into Wednesday, most Council members who had an opinion were skeptical. Some wanted a referendum (not permissible, per the memo).
Others thought a sale is bad business.
And for many skeptics, it wasn’t lost on them that Curry patron Tom Petway, a board appointee who replaced one of Alvin Brown‘s picks soon after Curry took office, was the primary pusher of the sale option last year.
Many of the mayor’s haters have wondered when he would be seen as overplaying his hand. Some will say that happened, finally, this week.
Duval on Senate floor during immigration debate
Sen. Bill Nelson spotlighted a Jacksonville example during the Senate immigration debate this week.
Nelson, a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, illustrated the need for protections via the story of Elisha Dawkins.
Dawkins thought he was born in America. He was wrong. He was locked up for falsifying passport information. Could have been deported. But Nelson stepped in.
“I found out about him because I read a news clip that he was in jail. Here was a fella, grew up in America, only knowing that he was American because he was brought to America from the Bahamas at age six months. He served two tours in Iraq. He came back and joined the Navy Reserves. He had a top-secret clearance. His reserve duty was in Guantánamo with that top-secret clearance. And then because of an application for a passport, he was suddenly swept up and put in jail,” Nelson asserted.
“Now, fortunately, we found out about it, started raising a stink about it. It was brought to the attention in one of the court hearings by a federal judge, and the federal judge said to the assistant U.S. attorney, ‘What in the world are you doing putting a fellow like this in jail?’ And, of course, after that tongue lashing from a federal judge, we got involved with Elisha,” Nelson added.
“I’m happy to report to you that Elisha is today a U.S. citizen. Elisha is a productive member of the Jacksonville community,” Nelson added. “And he is educated, and he is contributing to his community.”
Rutherford not down with Brown
Republican U.S. Rep. John Rutherford obviously won’t vote in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District between Rep. Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Brown.
However, in comments made Monday morning, Rutherford made it clear that he would prefer Lawson keeping his seat to Brown, with whom Rutherford worked for four years in Jacksonville, capsizing the Democrat from Tallahassee.
“We had some real disagreements on what was best for this community,” Rutherford said in Jacksonville about Brown. “I believe he hurt law enforcement and public safety in Jacksonville.”
For years, Rutherford and Brown sparred over budget issues with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which Rutherford ran from 2003 to 2015.
“I can tell you I’ve worked with Al Lawson in Congress already. He’s a gentleman, he’s bipartisan, and I really like working with Al,” Rutherford said. “He and I have really hit it off big, I think. He’s very supportive of our veterans. We have a great working relationship.”
The congressman added that Lawson is more than just a “Tallahassee guy,” saying that Lawson “talks about Jacksonville all the time and what’s going on here and the needs of Northeast Florida.”
Rep. Rutherford is pretty much yoked to President Donald Trump at this point, and that affinity applies to tax reform and the continuing resolution passed this month.
That held true during a press gaggle Monday in Jacksonville, in which Rutherford defended the continuing resolution to keep the government open, the tax reform bill that critics argue will disproportionately benefit corporations over the middle class, and suggested entitlement cuts down the road to offset a legislative commitment to increased deficit spending.
Asking Rutherford about these issues, reporters note that these measures look likely to pass debt onto future generations.
Rutherford asserted that CBO assumptions of 1.9 percent gross domestic product growth over the next 10 years are probably low.
“They’re anticipating as high as four, four and a half,” he said. “Each point above 1.9 percent is $274 billion a year. If we’re just one point above, in three years we fill the trillion-dollar hole created by the tax cut.”
Regarding the CR, Rutherford asserted that “if your house is being eaten up by termites and it’s on fire, which are you going to address first? Some things are more exigent than others.”
Savings will come, he said, when entitlements are cut.
“Where it’s going to come from,” said Rutherford, “is when we get to the entitlements side of the budget, that’s where the bulk of the revenue is at; that’s where we’re going to have to cut and find ways to make that happen.”
Rep. DeSantis would be seen by some as more of a Northeast Florida candidate if his clear interest weren’t D.C. intrigue rather than Florida issues.
One wonders if he might have stronger fundraising were he not doing most of his campaign from the Fox News studios.
Per the Palm Beach Post, DeSantis is still way behind Adam Putnam in the money race for governor, with “less new money in January than the Agriculture Commissioner.
“DeSantis’ campaign advertised a gaudy $3.3 million January haul — but more than $2.4 million of that figure was raised last year by a pro-DeSantis PAC and transferred to a new PAC in January,” the Post observes.
“DeSantis, who announced his candidacy on Jan. 5, raised $894,020 in new contributions in January. That includes $131,019 collected by his main campaign committee and $763,001 raised by a new PAC called Friends of Ron DeSantis. The Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC also received more than $2.4 million from the Fund For Florida’s Future, a PAC formed by DeSantis supporters last year that raised more than $2.6 million through the end of December. The Fund For Florida’s Future nearly zeroed out its account last month, giving $2 million to the new DeSantis PAC on Jan. 18 and another $447,394 on Jan. 31.”
The real story: a five to one ($16.8 million versus $3.3 million) advantage for Putnam.
Moody shreds Fant
Rep. Jay Fant took yet another shot at Attorney General opponent Ashley Moody this week, calling via letter for a “Second Amendment” debate with the “liberal” retired judge, and questioning Moody’s commitment to Stand Your Ground.
Moody then fired back, making it clear she thought Fant was a mountebank with no business in the AG race.
“Your letter demonstrates why you are not qualified to be Attorney General,” Moody wrote Tuesday. “You do not understand ‘Stand Your Ground’ as it existed then or now, criminal law, or how to try a case. This is not surprising since you have never actually tried a case, prosecuted anyone, nor really practiced law.”
Moody also brushed aside Fant’s challenge to a “Second Amendment debate” on March 1 in Tallahassee.
“I look forward to debating you, Frank White and Ross Spano, in the future and discussing how I will tackle the difficult challenges facing Florida, including the Second Amendment. But, until then, I plan on continuing to travel Florida meeting voters, hearing their stories, and discussing why I should be Florida’s next Attorney General,” Moody responded.
Too much moola for Shands?
POLITICO Florida waded into regional politics with a whistleblower type story asserting that UF Health was getting too much money in the Senate budget.
“Consider Shands Jacksonville Hospital and one of its employees, state Sen. Aaron Bean. He voted to approve a proposed Senate budget that disproportionately benefits the hospital from a pool of hundreds of millions of dollars the Legislature must divide among the state’s many public and private hospitals. Bean works at Shands as a ‘relationship development officer.’ Basically, he gets paid to bring in money,” the POLITICO dispatch observed.
“The Senate appropriation gave Shands Jacksonville a special funding boost of about $12 million. State Senate Budget Chief Rob Bradley — who happens to Bean’s brother-in-law — said he was unaware of the extra money and is calling it a mistake. But Bean won’t say whether he knew about the special money when he voted for it,” the article continues.
UF Health, of course, is arguably the most cash-strapped safety net hospital in the state. The extra $12 million would have made a real difference. Luckily, though, watchdog journalism will ensure another year of belt-tightening for the institution.
HD 15 still House race to watch
The race to replace Rep. Fant in House District 15 continues to be close in terms of cash on hand.
Tracye Polson issued a news release Monday detailing her resources.
“We will report today another $27,746 in January for my campaign. This is all in my campaign account and includes a $25,000 loan from me personally. This puts my combined total raised to $135,347 with over $91,000 COH,” Polson said.
The $25,000 loan dwarfs the $2,746 of hard money Polson raised in January off 46 contributions (many of which were as small as $1), bringing her to $55,000 loaned to her campaign. Polson also brought in $2,600 to her political committee, Better Jacksonville, but $2,500 was from her campaign treasurer.
Polson’s $91,000 on hand keeps her close to Republican lawyer Wyman Duggan, whose long-rumored primary challenge has yet to manifest.
$5,350 of new money in January brought Duggan over $109,000 raised, with approximately $95,000 of that cash on hand.
Other races for the State House on the 2018 ballot have no drama in the cash dash.
Water issues ahead, Graham says
Former U.S. Senator and Florida Gov. Bob Graham addressed a packed room in Jacksonville at the North Florida Land Trust’s annual meeting.
Graham, the keynote speaker at the event, discussed water issues and tenets of effective lobbying.
Water, Graham said, would be a “continuing challenge” for Florida, due to anticipated population growth and development.
Currently, Graham said, one in 5 acres in Florida is developed.
By 2070, the number will be up to 35 percent.
That development and population growth, said Graham, will tax the St. Johns River, springs and other tributaries. Impacts will be felt statewide, including the Apalachicola River and the Everglades.
“The state needs to step its game up,” Graham said, and “think 20 to 30 years ahead.”
However, that’s not exactly happening — and Graham dedicated a portion of his remarks to the importance of advocacy.
Graham noted that Florida chiropractors were the most effective at lobbying their issues during his heyday.
They built a personal connection, with chiropractors connecting with legislators in their districts. Typically, they’d call quarterly and would talk about sports and other ephemera when the Legislature was not approaching Session.
Then, just ahead of Session, it would be business.
The personal relationship was important to that approach, and effective.
Campaign finance disparities in Duval races
Local Jacksonville candidates continue fundraising for the 2019 elections, and a leitmotif is the relative non-competitiveness of cash dashes thus far.
The carnage starts in the race for Sheriff, where new entry Tony Cummings sputtered in his first campaign finance report, bringing in an anemic $525.
That’s a car payment, but not nearly enough to credibly message against incumbent Sheriff Mike Williams.
Williams has, between committee cash and hard lucre, roughly $338,000 on hand at the end of January.
This was after a quiet month of fundraising for him and Mayor Lenny Curry both.
There are several similarly lopsided races for Jacksonville City Council as well.
Jacksonville City Council Vice President Aaron Bowman made it official Monday, launching his run for the Council presidency.
Tradition holds that the Vice President moves to the presidency, barring some unusual development, such as what happened in 2017 when Brosche defeated John Crescimbeni for the top job.
The Brosche presidency has been a fractious one, with competing narratives between her and fellow Republican Curry on a variety of issues, including pension reform, children’s program reforms, and exploring the prospect of selling local utility JEA.
If there is a subtext to the letter Bowman, a former commander of NAS Mayport, sent Council members declaring his candidacy, it would be a return to civility and order. This will be especially timely given that his year as President will be an election year for the majority of Council.
While it’s conceivable that someone could launch a run for President against Bowman, it’s a fool’s errand.
The race for Council Vice President is in flux, with a number of candidates who have yet to garner significant commitments of support. But the race for the top job is all but decided with this declaration of candidacy.
Civil rights history task force
This week, Jacksonville City Council President Brosche rolled out a proposal for a task force on civil rights history.
This will be a 25-person task force, chaired by School Board member Warren Jones and Ju’Coby Pittman.
Board members include, but are not limited to, Chris Hand, Hope McMath, Tony Allegretti, Marcus Pollard, Ennis Davis, Isaiah Rumlin, Alton Yates and Darnell Smith.
The task force proposal is a reaction to Jacksonville and Florida not being on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. The trail covers 14 states and 100 historic landmarks.
The task force will complete the work by June 30.
Council members in attendance at a public notice meeting Monday included Sam Newby, Reggie Brown, Garrett Dennis, Katrina Brown and Reggie Gaffney.
There was approval for the concept, and potential developments, including a museum proposal by Councilman Brown, and a discussion of potential landmarks that could be included on the trail.
Council members discussed potentially getting money for the museum concept from Tallahassee and Washington, as potential matches for city money.
With education, no more #MeToo
With an increasing number of sexual harassment accusations against entertainment, community and elected leaders, Jacksonville’s Ed Burr is calling for better education and tools for our children to ensure safety for both themselves and others.
In an op-ed for USA TODAY, the entrepreneur and mega-developer described how he watched each development in the #MeToo movement with a “mixture of awe and disheartenment. The bravery of the survivors is inspiring, but in the face of so much evil we can feel powerless.”
Burr calls for a focus on education, giving power to children to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.
“Educators, you have a powerful platform of influence. Schools serve as the single best place to implement prevention programs,” he writes. “Parents can help by supporting schools’ decisions to teach these programs and by fostering a dialogue at home. And lawmakers can make a difference by requiring all schools to provide abuse prevention education — and by holding them accountable to do so.”
Cecil Spaceport to launch first commercial space vehicle this year
After last week’s Space-X launch, Cecil Airport — the joint civil-military facility located in Jacksonville — announced preparation for its first commercial space launch, expected to happen before the end of the year.
Currently, there are 12 commercial spaceports in the United States. Cecil Spaceport will be one of six that can accommodate horizontal launches. Jets equipped with small rockets would fly all over the ocean to be launched.
“It’s incredible, it just makes myself very proud of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority and the Jacksonville community,” Cecil Spaceport director Todd Lindner told News 4 Jax.
Construction on a new hangar begins this month, designed for space operators, assembly and storage of vehicles.
“A new space operation mission control center which will be part of a new air traffic control tower that is going into construction probably later this year,” Lindner added.
Tarps come off
Bully for the Jacksonville Jaguars — the Florida Times-Union reports that the tarps are finally coming off the nosebleed seats, a measure of demand for a revived product.
Seems like only months ago that local right-wingers were fulminating about kneeling for the anthem.
What a difference a playoff run makes.
Regarding the anti-kneeling brigade, file away the spectacle from last year the next time you consider the next great social conservative fulmination.
Bolstered by frequent appearances on cable TV news programs, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has shot his way into the top tier of the GOP primary for Florida governor.
According to a recent Mason Dixon poll, DeSantis is now trailing establishment favorite Adam Putnam by just four points — an easily surmountable difference for a candidate who has President DonaldTrump‘s backing and is booked on Fox News three or four times a day.
That said, DeSantis’ first fundraising report since becoming a candidate for governor feels just short of Goldilocks.
DeSantis’ camp framed the Palm Coast Republican’s January effort with a news release with the headline: “Ron DeSantis for Governor Campaign Announces Fundraising Total of Over $3.3 Million for January.”
While green plays no matter what, DeSantis certainly did not raise $3.3 million in January. Take a look at the numbers.
His campaign raised an Andrew Gillum-esque $131,019 in hard dollars.
Just think about that number for a moment: $131K in a race that allows contributions of up to $3,000.
So the best DeSantis, who just ran in 2016 for the U.S. Senate (and has spent the past few months planning a bid for governor) can do is — at most — 40 major donors (of course, it doesn’t break down that way, but you see the point).
DeSantis did raise $763,000 for his political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis gets to $3.2 million “raised” for his gubernatorial campaign by transferring in $2,447,393 from the now zeroed-out Fund for Florida’s Future. That money will spend as easily as any other campaign’s money, so there’s no dismissing it.
But, the bottom line on DeSantis’ first month of fundraising is $894,020. That’s better than “too little,” but it feels short of “just right.” Or Goldilocks.
Why? Well, for one thing, the first move DeSantis made to show that he was serious about running for governor was to leak to POLITICO Florida the roster for his “Finance Leadership Team,” which includes “casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, hedge fund heiress Rebekah Mercer, investment tycoon Foster Friess and other donors who have funded the conservative Koch brothers’ network and President Trump’s campaign.”
Those billionaires could — and still can — park $25 million in DeSantis’ committee’s account without breaking a sweat.
So why didn’t they?
Imagine where the race would be today if DeSantis was already on the same ground as Putnam. For one, it’s possible Corcoran — who will fight for the same conservative “lane” as DeSantis — would decide against running.
Another reason why DeSantis’ first report is underwhelming is that it’s not like it was surprising when he entered the race. We’ve been hearing about a statewide race since he shut down his U.S. Senate campaign. He had months to line up major donors, and the best they could do is less than a million dollars.
For Governor, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, and (at least provisionally) House Speaker Richard Corcoran are all running.
Patronis, when asked which of the three would be best at carrying on the legacy of Gov. Rick Scott, was noncommittal.
“All those gentlemen have fantastic leadership abilities,” Patronis said Monday in Jacksonville. “They all bring a different skill set that complements what the state of Florida needs right now. All three of those gentlemen have that ability.”
“But the campaign is a great test of leadership, ideas, and skills. There will be mishaps, falls, but there will be opportunities,” Patronis added.
One of those mishaps or opportunities, depending on how one looks at it: DeSantis’ vow to “drain the swamp” in Tallahassee, which has been under Republican control for two decades.
We asked Patronis whether he thought Tallahassee was swampy, and if so, how swampy.
“I think Congressman DeSantis is having some fun with the rhetoric that we all see in Washington,” Patronis said.
“I think any business, any community, any organization is going to have warts. It happens,” Patronis added. “Tallahassee is a fantastic place, it really is. Good people making a difference. But hey, when personal people make personal decision sometimes that complicates professional situations.”
“To me, it’s campaign rhetoric,” Patronis said when we asked if Tallahassee was in need of swamp draining. “It is a great buzzword.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has received endorsements from Hawthorne Mayor Matt Surrency and two former mayors, Cindy Lerner of Pinecrest and Shirley Freeman of Monroe County, her campaign announced Monday morning.
In a news release Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, heralded the endorsements as relevant in an era when the Florida Legislature is pursuing numerous proposals to roll back home rule protections for cities and counties.
“The current legislative assault on home rule is simply outrageous,” she stated in the news release. “As governor, I will not tolerate this Tallahassee-knows-best attitude. The state of Florida should partner with towns, cities, counties, and other local governments — not penalize them.
“Local leaders understand their communities best. I am proud to have the support of Mayor Surrency, Mayor Lerner, and Mayor Freeman, and, as governor, I will always listen to and work closely with our cities and counties when making decisions in Tallahassee,” Graham added.
“As governor, Gwen Graham will respect cities and counties and work with them to do what is best for their local communities,” he stated in the news release. “She has fought alongside local governments to protect our clean water from fracking, supports returning management of our classrooms and schools to teachers and parents, and will defend home rule. As governor, Gwen will end the attacks on local government from the Legislature and listen to the people.”
Graham faces former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and current Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, along with Winter Park businessman Chris King, in seeking the Democratic primary nomination to run for governor in November. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.
“Gwen Graham believes in the science and common sense evidence that shows climate change is already impacting Florida. As governor, she will assure planning and investments that will demonstrate her commitment to supporting clean energy and stand up to Donald Trump’s dangerous policies that threaten our coastal communities and the entire state’s economy,” stated Lerner, whose town of Pinecrest is in Miami-Dade County. “Gwen is committed to sustainability and will usher in a green economy that works for every Floridian.”
Freeman’s former position, Monroe County mayor, is one of the few county-wide mayoral jobs in Florida.
“In the Florida Keys, we know how vitally important it is to stop climate change and the threat of oil drilling off our beaches,” Freeman stated. “Gwen has a proven record of always fighting offshore drilling and an unwavering dedication to protecting Florida’s environment. I’m supporting Gwen Graham for governor because I know she will always put our clean air, land, and water first.”
“It’s a little surprising that so few people have heard of the candidates, particularly Adam Putnam who has won two statewide races, and Gwen Graham, who is a former member of Congress and the daughter of former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham,” said Dr. Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF. “These results highlight both the opportunities for the candidates to shape the voters’ perception of them and the challenges they face in getting out their message.”
The poll of 619 registered F;prod voters asked respondents to opine on gubernatorial hopefuls: Democrats Graham,Phillip Levine, Andrew Gillum, and Republicans Richard Corcoran, Ron DeSantis and Putnam.
The percentage of total respondents who had never heard of the Democrats ranges from 73 percent for Levine to 81 percent for Gillum. Graham had 11 percent favorable and four percent unfavorable toward her, while 78 percent had never heard of her. Gillum had seven percent favorable against four unfavorable, and Levine (who has bought television ads for months) had eight percent favorable and five percent unfavorable.
The landscape is almost as bleak with Democratic respondents for the party’s candidates.
The total respondents who hadn’t heard of the candidates: 65 percent for Levine, 75 percent for Graham, and 78 percent for Gillum. Of the candidates, Graham was in the best shape with the party members who responded, at 15 percent favorable and three percent unfavorable.
Republican candidates likewise have room to define themselves to voters: 67 percent of all respondents had never heard of Putnam, 72 percent of DeSantis and 78 percent of Corcoran. Putnam, with 14 percent viewing him favorably and 7 percent unfavorably, fared the best with total voters. DeSantis was at 10 percent favorable and five percent unfavorable, and Corcoran was at just five percent favorable and six percent unfavorable.
Among registered Republican voters, there was some daylight between Putnam and the others. Putnam stood at 22 percent favorable against two percent unfavorable with voters of his own party, which compares well to DeSantis (14 favorable to three unfavorable), and Corcoran (six to five).
Methodology: The University of North Florida (UNF), Florida Statewide Poll was conducted by the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at UNF Monday, January 29, through Sunday, February 4, by live callers via the telephone, and calls were made from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
The margin of sampling error for the total sample of 619 registered voters is +/- 3.9 percentage points. The breakdown of completed responses on a landline phone to a cell phone was 27 to 73 percent.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham crossed the $5 million mark in fundraising last month after bringing in more than $450,000 between her campaign and committee accounts.
The Graham campaign brought in more than $300,000 of that money, while contributions to her political committee, Our Florida, accounted for the balance.
The campaign and committee reports are not yet available through the Florida Division of Elections, though the totals would put the former Congresswoman near $5.2 million in total fundraising.
At the end of 2017 she had about $2.9 million banked between the two accounts.
In a statement Graham touted the number of individual donors who have chipped in to her campaign since she entered the race, which eclipsed 14,000 in January. Graham’s campaign says that total beats all other gubernatorial candidates, Democrat or Republican.
“This month, Republicans began their 20th session in complete control of Florida’s government. Year after year, they have attacked our public schools, polluted our environment and made it more difficult for Floridians to get healthcare coverage. Voters are sick and tired of it and they’re hungry for a change in Tallahassee,” Graham said.
“Our campaign is about more than just about the governor’s election — it’s about restoring the public trust. We’re working to give the people a voice again, and I’m thankful for each and every Floridian who has joined our team through donations and in our grassroots volunteer programs from Pensacola to Jacksonville, Tampa to Key West.”
Graham was the last of the four major Democrats in the race to preview her January numbers.
Those totals give Levine the top spot with nearly $9 million raised over the course of his campaign, followed by Graham, then King with about $3 million and Gillum with just below $2 million to date.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is running for the GOP nomination against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and likely House Speaker Richard Corcoran as well, still leads the field overall with more than $22 million raised and $16 million in the bank at the end of 2017.